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Thursday, July 11, 2013

Parliamentarians travel reminds of gap in transparency standard.

Overseas travel by parliamentarians at taxpayers expense is no state secret. 

So details of 'study tours' by the soon to retire Senator Crossin and Simon Crean (each accompanied by spouse) are out there, and costs will eventually appear on the website at the Department of Finance which pays for these and other entitlements of members and senators. 

The Prime Minister when asked, said the rules regarding travel may need "sharpening up."

Hmm. Wonder whether he noticed that the transparency and accountability standard for payments to, for or on behalf of parliamentarians by the parliamentary departments has just been dulled to indecipherable? 

Just a few weeks ago, when Mr Rudd was on the backbench the Government and Opposition combined to legislate a blanket exemption for those departments from the Freedom of Information Act. Not just payments to or for parliamentarians are beyond reach of FOI. So too are all documents concerning the operation of the three departments which receive a budget allocation of around $170 million.

For the record entitlements paid by the parliamentary departments according to the fine print of the handbook include salaries ($185,000 per year) and electorate allowances (between $32000 and $46000); additional salaries for parliamentary office holders; superannuation; resettlement allowance payable to some who retire or lose a seat after short tenure; services and facilities to support parliamentarians in Parliament House including office accommodation, computing and other equipment, telephones, newspapers and stationery, $1800 in postage for parliamentary or electorate purposes (from $40,000 administered by Finance) and IT equipment and facilities and administration of IT in electorate offices.
Oh, and the cost of travel as a member of a delegation to conferences of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) and Inter- Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Then there are support costs for office holders such as the Speaker and President of the Senate. The brief FOI window that opened on the parliament revealed former speaker Peter Slipper spent $1248 on coat and tails and $8500 on catering, among other necessities.

As to transparency about payments to parliamentarians by the state parliaments, don't ask.

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